The Overuse of Antibiotics and the Increase of Resistant Bacteria

The Overuse of Antibiotics and the Increase of Resistant Bacteria

by Amanda Hawkinson

Throughout the year, families experience various colds, sore throats and viruses. When visiting their child’s doctor, parents usually expect a prescription for antibiotics. Many are surprised, and irritated, if they leave empty-handed. Parents what their kid to get better a quickly as possible; but the doctor could be doing you and your child a favor by not reaching for the prescription pad.

How Antibiotics Work

Discovered in the 1940s, antibiotics are considered one of the greatest advances in medicine. Unfortunately, many individuals seek this prescription as the first line of defense. Overprescribing them has in turn resulted in the development of resistant bacteria. These bacteria don’t respond to the antibiotics like they might have in the past. Also, there is the issue of side-effects, like an upset stomach and diarrhea. Some even have an allergic reaction.

But how do they work? Antibiotics work as a treatment for two major types of germs: bacteria and viruses. Bacteria and viruses multiply and spread illness differently:


  • Bacteria are “living organisms existing as single cells. Bacteria are everywhere and most don’t cause any harm, and in some cases may be beneficial. Lactobacillus, for example, lives in the intestine and help digest food.”

    However, some bacteria are destructive and cause illness by invading the human body, multiplying, and interfering with normal bodily processes. Antibiotics are effective because they “kill” these living organisms by stopping their growth and reproduction.

  • Viruses, on the other hand,” are not alive and cannot exist on their own — they are particles containing genetic material wrapped in a protein coat. Viruses “live,” grow, and reproduce only after they’ve invaded other living cells.”

    It is possible for some viruses to be fought off by the immune system, but others (like colds) have to run their course. Unfortunately, viruses do not respond to antibiotics at all.

Why is Overuse Harmful

As stated previously, taking antibiotics for viral infections doesn’t work. It also, over time, helps to create bacteria that are resistant to the treatment altogether.

By frequently using antibiotics, your body can have an increase of bacteria and other microbes that resist antibiotic treatment. This bacterial/antibiotic resistance, in turn, requires the prescription of higher doses of medicine or stronger antibiotics. Some individuals have noticed resistance to some of the most powerful antibiotics available on today’s market.

This problem is widespread, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls antibiotic resistance “one of the world’s most pressing public health problems.” Pneumococcal infections (which cause pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and meningitis), skin infections, and tuberculosis are included in the antibiotic resistant bacteria category.



Taking Antibiotics Safely

So how can you use antibiotics safely? To minimize the risk of bacterial resistance, keep these tips in mind:

  • Treat only bacterial infections. Seek advice and ask questions. Letting milder illnesses (especially those thought to be caused by viruses) run their course to avoid the development of drug-resistant germs may be a good idea — but it’s still best to leave what constitutes a “mild illness” up to your doctor. Even if the symptoms don’t worsen but linger, take your child to the doctor. At the office, ask questions about whether your child’s illness is bacterial or viral, and discuss the risks and benefits of antibiotics. If it’s a virus, don’t pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics, but ask about ways to treat symptoms.”

If your child is prescribed antibiotics, remember the following:

  • Use antibiotics as prescribed.
  • Don’t save antibiotics for next time.
  • Never use another person’s prescription.


Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions. Ask him/ her about ways that you can treat any symptoms that are making your child uncomfortable, without the use of antibiotics. Open communication with your doctor is important to the health of your family.


But your health is also your responsibility. Use antibiotics properly. It is pointless to use antibiotics for viral infections. Use them for bacterial infections only and use them for the full amount of time that is prescribed by the doctor, but do not take them for longer.


Other important suggestions are to never use antibiotics that are lying around the house or that are prescribed for another family member. If you have any remaining antibiotics, be sure to throw them out as soon as you have completed the full course of medication.


This problem is not new and doctors are aware of the issue. New antibiotics might be available in the future, but until then, use them responsibly and not as the first result to illness.


The Riordan Clinic promotes the use of supplementation and probiotics along with any necessary medications prescribed for illness. For more information, contact the Riordan Clinic at 316-683-3100.